Storm Dancer, by Rayne Hall
Kyra's star ratings:
Characters: * * * * *
Story: * * * *
Writing: * * * *
Setting: * * * * *
(I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of giving an honest review.)
Storm Dancer is a big, sweeping, epic fantasy set in an exotic desert land, with colorful and compelling characters. Dahoud, possessed by a djinn who urges him to horrifying acts of rape and other atrocities, is fighting to control the djinn and make amends for the terrible things he's done. Merida, a magician and loyal citizen of the extremely ordered and rigid Virtuous Republic of Riverland, has been sent to the desert countries on a mission to bring rain and enlightenment. Their paths cross as both of them face setbacks and challenges on their respective quests, then finally join together when they unexpectedly find a common cause to fight for.
The writing is clear and colorful, painting a portrait of harsh, exotic lands. I have a soft spot for fantasy that takes place in desert settings, so I really enjoyed the setting of this book. I also sympathized with the characters as they struggled to make their way through this harsh world against the thoroughly nasty plotting of the main villain, Kirral. There were a few times when I wanted to give Merida a good shaking for her obtuseness and refusal to adapt to her new situation. Frustration with characters is a big reason why I don't finish books. But in this case, it seemed clear that Merida was being set up like this on purpose so that the readers could follow her through her process of growth and learning. She did learn and grow, and I took more than a little satisfaction in seeing her cut down to size and then becoming a much stronger and wiser woman. I also enjoyed watching Dahoud's progess as he came to understand the true nature of the darkness within him.
It's a long book, which I'm not complaining about because I do love me a good doorstopper. The plot did seem to lose momentum and focus a few times, particularly in the end of the first half or about in the middle third. The structure of the book could maybe use a little tightening up to stay more focused on Dahoud and Merida and their problems and what they're trying to do. But during these slower spots, I was interested enough in what was going to happen to the characters to keep reading. I also felt that there were places where the author backed off from really diving into the full emotions and experiences of the characters, just touching the surface instead of giving the full depths.
The end was satisfying, and I would enjoy reading the further adventures of Dahoud and Merida. On the whole, Storm Dancer is a rich, colorful, exciting, and rewarding read, and I enjoyed it very much.
Last time on the Breakfast Challenge, we looked at Professor Roric Rossony from The Lost Book of Anggird. Today we'll see what breakfast is like for the characters in Urdaisunia.
In short, not nearly as luxurious. At one time, the land of Urdaisunia was an agricultural oasis, the Urdaisunians having developed various advanced agricultural techniques including an extensive irrigation system. But now drought and war have put an end to that, and food is in perilously short supply.
The staple foods in the villages along the riverbanks, including Rashali's home village Moon Bend, are lentils and barley (mostly from stores from previous years' crops, since the harvests have been getting worse every year), root vegetables and greens that are native to the desert (because of the water shortage, vegetable gardens can no longer be grown), goat's milk, and chicken eggs. The river villagers' main source of animal protein was always fish, but with the drying up of the rivers, that major component of their diet has disappeared. Every once in a while, the village will butcher a spare goat and eat a small portion of the meat spit-roasted or stewed, but most of it is cured and dried. Goat jerky, basically. The same with chickens: they're more valuable for their eggs than for their meat, but every once in a while a hen too old to lay or a spare rooster will be killed and eaten.
With food in such short supply, the river villagers generally only eat one meal a day. They postpone that one meal as late in the day as they can, so they won't be too hungry to sleep at bedtime. Food supplies are commonly-shared, so food preparation and eating are generally communal activities. In spite of the shortages, the villagers are generous with those who have even less, such as travelers who have eaten their own provisions. They believe it's an offense to the gods to withold even what little they have been given by the favor of the gods.
When Rashali finds herself in unexpectedly comfortable circumstances in the capital city Zir, she is served a meal consisting of grilled fish (the two rivers have been dammed up at Zir, so fish is still available), soft cheese, cold cooked barley dressed with olive oil and herbs, fresh greens, figs, and almond cakes. This is more food than she sees in a week, and she feels guilty at the abundance, thinking of how hungry the people back home in Moon Bend are, but she eats as much of it as she can so as not to offend the gods and the person who provided the meal by wasting it. This is a supper; a breakfast in this situation would consist of cooked barley and/or lentils topped with goat-milk yogurt, barley bread, soft cheese, and figs or grapes. Two large meals a day are served here, one in late morning and the other late in the afternoon. Meals are eaten privately or in a formal family setting.
In another part of the book, Rashali is in an exceptionally well-run rebel camp with good supply lines, including water supplies. Three meals a day are served here, because the days start early and end late and include a lot of military training and other hard work. A typical meal is lentil stew topped with goat-milk yogurt, and the camp also stores hard-baked cakes of barley and lentils.
In Kubiz, the great harbor city, fish is a lot more abundant, of course. Fish stew or grilled fish are eaten at nearly every meal, and Kubiz still has enough food supplies that anyone who can afford it can eat three meals a day. Kubiz is also a very cosmopolitan city, so the food has a lot of international influences, including stir-fry and kebabs. Candy is popular, with makers of almond-paste and honey sweets being common.
I used food in Urdaisunia as a close reflection of the different circumstances and settings the characters find themselves in. In some ways, Urdaisunia is a story of survival, both of individuals and of nations, and food is essential to survival. It was also interesting to do some research into what kinds of food would have been available to the ancient Sumerians. In an earlier version of the book I had the Urdaisunians eating lots of rice, until it occurred to me (duh) that rice cultivation takes a lot of water. Way more water than was ever available. So, goodbye rice, hello barley. I like barley, as it happens, and I also like lentils. I don't think I'd like them as much if that was most of what I had to eat, though.
Camp NaNo report:
4/15 1801 words
4/16 1680 words
Finally, here's a shout-out to Sharon Stevenson, this week's featured writer at the Paranormal, Fantasy, Dystopia and Romance Writers and Reviewers group on Goodreads!
I've been doing some book reviews lately, mainly for the Paranormal, Fantasy, Dystopia, and Romance Writers and Reviewers group on Goodreads, and decided to start posting them here too, to spread the word about some interesting new authors I'm finding.
**Please note, this is NOT a book review blog! Don't start sending me messages asking me to review books. I review books strictly on my own whim and discretion, mainly for my Goodreads group but also of other books that catch my fancy. Once I get caught up with my backlog of reviews, they'll only appear once or maybe twice a week.
So, here's my review of The Great Succession Crisis, by Laurel A. Rockefeller.
Kyra's star ratings:
Characters: * * * *
Story: * * *
Writing mechanics: * *
Worldbuilding: * * * * *
(I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of giving an honest review.)
The Great Succession Crisis is a science fiction/science fantasy dealing with the question of female inheritance of the throne on the planet Beinan. The most notable thing about the novel is the extensive, deeply-layered, detailed worldbuilding. The author has put a great amount of thought and work into developing Beinan: physics, history, politics, social mores, technology, food, religion, weaponry, fashion, down to measurements of time and distance.
For my own personal preferences, I would have liked to get to know the characters on a more personal level before diving into the history and politics. But once the basic situation was set up (the daughter of a female ruler cannot inherit, and Queen Isabelle's only son is unwilling to take the throne, leaving Princess Anlei the only - illegal - heir) and the story-telling turned to the characters, I found myself engaged by the romance between Caronn and Anlei and the threats to their happiness and their world's well-being.
Some stylistic quirks in the writing kept me from being able to fully immerse myself in the story. The author uses a lot of different words in place of "said" in dialogue attribution. I found this distracting, especially when the word being used is not a functional synonym for "said." The novel is also dialogue-heavy, and both dialogue and narrative contained more detail than I was able to absorb.
There's an interesting framing device, setting the story as "data transmission files" sent by someone from Beinan who crash-landed on a planet referred to as D425E25 Tertius. I'm curious to know more about this storyline.
The author classifies The Great Succession Crisis as science fiction, but me being a fantasy nut, I consider it science fantasy because of some quasi-magical foretelling and empathic abilities that some of the characters display.
The extended edition comes with numerous appendices laying out Ms. Rockefeller's truly breathtaking worldbuilding, along with a couple of related short stories, some of her non-fiction essays, and a recipe for Beinan-style fruit pastries.
Overall, The Great Succession Crisis is an interesting story with characters I came to care about in a richy-developed world. Rated a solid 3 stars, meaning I liked it.
So, here's a fun thing. Camille LaGuire issued a challenge on her blog: write about your characters at breakfast. (Or, for readers, your favorite characters at breakfast.) She starts off with a post about her young gunslinger couple, Mick and Casey, and what breakfast is like for them. I imagine that breakfast for Silas and Lainie, from Daughter of the Wildings, is probably pretty much the same.
The main character that came to my mind when I read this challenge is Professor Roric Rossony from The Lost Book of Anggird. The Professor has some interesting eating habits, and breakfast plays an important part in the first section of the book. Here's one of my favorite scenes (please remember that this is not the final version; all mistakes and bad writing will be corrected by the time this is ready for release):
(The setup: Professor Rossony and his newly-hired assistant, Perarre, have been at Morning Lecture, a quasi-worship service, and have just arrived at his office/apartment to begin the day's work.)
When they reached the Professor’s third-floor apartment, the Professor asked, “Will you join me for breakfast, Miss Tabrano?”
Professors in this land (the Vorunne Dominion) are a privileged class, and Professor Rossony is one of the elite of the elite. As part of his compensation for his work, he is provided with the best of everything in living quarters and food. This is entirely different from what Perarre is used to, as an Assistant at the University. Her position is roughly equivalent to a post-grad assistantship or research position, which doesn't quite come with the same status and compensation as that of a full and widely-renowned professor. So she's glad to join him for breakfast even if it does mean getting grilled at the same time over what was said during Lecture!
Tea, pastries, and fruit appear in this meal; later on, when Perarre has been consistently in the habit of eating breakfast with the Professor for some time, the meal expands to include bacon and eggs, bread rolls, and even oranges. The Vorunne Dominion includes areas that have the right climate for growing citrus, but because of the limited growing season and the costs in shipping them, oranges are still something of a luxury item. However, nothing is too good or too expensive for one of the Dominion's most renowed Professors.
Professor Rossony is also notable for his extremely fastidious habits (notice the eating the apple with a knife and fork; he eats bacon the same way, too). He has good reasons for having such habits; they're his way of coping with what is later revealed to be a difficult and chaotic childhood and adolescence along with other challenges that he faces. He seeks to maintain absolute control in whatever areas of his life he can to compensate for devastating things that were/are out of his control.
I like the opportunities this scene provided for some interplay between the Professor and Perarre as they get to know each other a little better, how she's chagrined to notice the difference between his fastidious manners and her own more careless style of eating (this contrast carries over to many other areas besides eating), and the fact that the Professor feels no hesitancy to push her, a female, to stretch herself intellectually, and that he offers her the respect of telling her she doesn't have to agree with him. Later on, breakfast becomes an opportunity for Perarre to show her displeasure with some of the Professor's behavior, by declining to join him at the table, and for him to offer an apology (buttering a hard roll for another person can be an act of contrition).
This is just in the first part of the book. Then the Professor delves too deeply into things he shouldn't, and everything goes kablooey (literally?), and then breakfast becomes an entirely different matter, when you're on the run for your life. But it was fun to use the morning meals in the first part of the book as a chance to develop the characters, show what their lives are like at the University, and start to develop their relationship. Maybe it's just me, but I can see just a little bit of the chemistry between Perarre and the Professor starting to bubble up in the scene I quoted here.
Camp NaNo update:
On Friday and Saturday, various issues, including trying to fix a broken printer, dealing with wonky writing software, and the need to do a massive grocery shopping trip, kept my numbers down. Here's the report for the last few days:
4/11 - 1518 words
4/12 - 343 words
4/13 - 753 words
Total word count so far: 13,348/30,000
Day 10, plugging right along. Here's the numbers for the last few days:
Day 6: 1125 words; 6359/30,000
Day 8: 1030 words; 7389/30,000
Day 9: 1958 words; 9347/30,000
Day 10: 1387 words; 10734/30,000
Felt good to cross that 10K mark! So far, in this mostly-unplanned writing, I've discovered a nasty curse, some interesting reasons for technology to be banned by wizards, and a very cleverly disguised villain.
Just a couple items of news: I've been interviewed by a Camp NaNo acquaintance, Chris K, on his blog for his A-Z Camp NaNo Spotlight challenge! Go check it out, and meet some other Camp NaNo-ers too.
Also, congratulations to this week's Paranormal, Fantasy, Dystopia, and Romance Writers and Reviewers featured author, J.J. DiBenedetto!
Today's Camp NaNo output:
1517 words Total: 5234/30,000 words.
Have I mentioned how much fun this series, Daughter of the Wildings, is to write? Aside from the issue of it not wanting to let me plan more than a few scenes or chapters in advance, which is completely different from how I usually write. The setting and the characters are so much fun, and I'm finding myself leaving places where I can write short stories and novellas later on to fill in some gaps. The world needs more second-world fantasy (that is, fantasy set in a world completely unconnected to ours) in a wild west type of setting.
Anyway. I realized I haven't written anything about Urdaisunia lately. It's published, it's out there, and I've moved on to other projects. But I haven't forgotten about it. There's a story behind the writing of Urdaisunia, and here it is.
A long time ago, I wrote my first novel. Like a good little writer, I then found an agent in the Writers Marketplace book at the library, and bundled my novel off to an agent who represented fantasy writers. Then I started my next novel.
There were two seeds for this second novel. One was an image that came into my mind, of a peasant woman, destitute and desperate, facing down three men on horseback who were holding swords over her head. Then one of the men, obviously in charge of the other two, orders them, in a language she doesn't understand, to not kill her.
The other seed was my fascination at the time (well, I still have it) with very ancient civilizations and cultures. Not the Romans and Greeks, those whippersnappers, but even more ancient. And not the Egyptians, because that's been done. I wanted really, really ancient, and something that you didn't see stuff about all the time. Sumeria fit the bill. I read up about the technology and culture developed by the Sumerians, and their literature and mythology, and began developing a world based on that. You can find more details about the Sumerian influences on Urdaisunia in this post. Then I plopped that peasant woman and the three warriors down in that world, and came up with the idea of an ancient, proud civilization in decline and conquered by newcomers, and the gods of that civilization all in an uproar about what to do about it.
I started writing that novel and was having loads of fun with it. In the meantime, I got a response from the literary agency I had contacted, a very nice rejection that made me feel like maybe I would hit the target with the next book. Also in the meantime, though, the word "marketability" had entered my awareness. Whether through reading Writer's Digest magazine, or something in the letter from the agency, or both, I don't remember. But at that point, I realized that I was not only going to have to write something good, I was also going to have to write something that an agent would find marketable and that the agent would be able to convince an editor at a publishing company was marketable.
And then I froze up. I had no idea what someone else was going to think was marketable - I still don't. I don't know if anyone does. All I knew was that I had never seen anything like the novel I was writing on the fantasy shelves at bookstores (pre-Medieval, non-European setting, no wizards and magic, all these gods running around doing their soap opera thing), which said to me that books like that were not considered marketable. I mean, I couldn't be the only person who ever thought of writing something like that.
So I tried to change the story. I stuck some wizard and magic stuff (beyond the small amount that came organically) into the story and tried to make the whole thing with the gods a little less weird, and just tried to make the whole structure of the novel more like that of the fantasy novels I was reading at the time. The more I tried to make the novel "marketable," the bigger mess it turned into, and finally I just gave up - both on the novel and on the idea of trying to get published, since it was now apparent to me that I didn't have a clue about how to write the kinds of things that agents and publishers would want.
This was in about 1991. Fast forward to, oh, 2005, 2006, or so. Those characters - the peasant-rebel woman, the hapless prince, the scheming gods, wouldn't leave me alone. So I dug into my old story files and hauled out my old printouts, gave the first few chapters a quick edit, and started posting them on my old fiction website, with the intent of writing and posting the rest of it one chapter at a time.
How did that work out? About as well as you'd expect it to. I had a mishmash of the different old versions I'd tried writing, plot threads that went nowhere, and no clue how I wanted it to work out at the end. So I chucked the whole idea again.
But those darn characters STILL wouldn't leave me alone. So in, hmm, early 2010, on a creative high after completing my first National Novel Writing Month challenge, I hauled out all my old notes and files and printouts, plopped whatever was salvagable into a Liquid Story Binder project, and patchworked together a complete manuscript from usable old bits and newly-written material. It felt really good to finally reach The End on the novel I'd started nearly twenty years earlier.
There was just one problem, though. It was awful. Between my execrable "high fantasy" narrative style from when I first started writing, and the "let's just get this over with" brain dumps in the new stuff, and the random bits of deleted characters and subplots still lying around, it was a huge mess. I figured that one day I would tackle it and make something out of it, but I had no idea how.
And then I discovered Holly Lisle's How To Revise Your Novel online course. It sounded good, and I was gearing up to dive into the world of self-publishing and wanted to get the editorial skills to be able to make my books as good as I could, so I signed up. The project I chose to do the course with was that thrice-abandoned mess, Urdaisunia. I figured if the method taught in the course could make something readable out of that thing, then it could work on any book.
The course has five months worth of lessons, but it took me longer than that to get all the way through all the work. It was hard - just reading my rough draft made my eyeballs bleed at times, and I had to dig down really deep to find the really cool story that lay buried far beneath the surface. But I did it, I tore that thing apart, pulled out and dusted off what was good and got rid of the bad, and put it all back together again. When I finally finished the first revision, I sent my vastly improved story out to some friends who bravely agreed to test-read it for me, did another big revision based on their feedback and some more ideas I'd had about the story, and then, when all that was done, realized I had a novel I was proud of.
And, well, the rest is history. I did the final edits, formatted it, and now that story I abandoned long ago as being a hopeless cause is now out there, on Amazon and in paperback and everything (in theory, you can even go to your favorite bricks&mortar bookstore and special-order it). It's an incredible feeling.
And Rashali and Eruz and all those bickering gods are much, much happier with me now.
1364 words today, most of it involving a card game that gets more and more complicated every time I write about it.
It's a game I made up for this world, because how can you have a wild west setting without some good card games going on the saloons? And since this is a fantasy world, it had to be a fantasy card game.
Suits: Sun (4), Moon (3), Stars (2), Earth (1), Air (2), Water (3), Fire (4)
[Edit, just so I can keep this straight myself. In the suits, the point values are actually multipliers. So a Sun Dragon is worth 4x15 pts, or 60 pts, while an Earth Dragon is only worth 15 pts (1x15)]
Ranks: Dragon (15 pts), Mage (14), King (13), Queen (12), Priest (11), Crone (10), Warrior (9), Merchant (8), Hunter (7), Farmer (6), Beggar (5), Harlot (4), Fool (3), Demon (2), Death (1 pt)
The players lay down combinations of three cards, and see who has best combos. Points are determined by the point values of the cards along with factors such as straight flushes (triples point value of combo) or three of a kind (suit or rank) (doubles point value of combo) and how much better or worse the combos are relative to the other players' combos (if there are 6 players, best-scoring combo gets an extra 5 points, worst-scoring gets 0 extra points), and are kept track of with colored pebbles. Bets can change after each time play passes around the table. Play continues until no more players can lay down a three-card combination. Points are totaled up at the end, but a really spectacular combo can win the game single-handedly. (Think catching the golden snitch in Quidditch. The point score doesn't necessarily matter when the snitch is caught.) The longer the game goes on, the more money is likely to be in the pot, so there's no advantage to ending the game early with an unbeatable hand.
Lainie, it turns out, is really good at this game.
Today's Camp Word Count: 1364; total 3720/30,000
So I went and did my civic duty on Tuesday. I got put on the short list for a jury, but in the end wasn't selected for the actual jury. Which was just as well, since my chronic fatigue syndrome would make it extremely difficult to serve on even a three-day trial, which this one was. But I was also a little disappointed, since it seemed like an interesting case.
One thing about jury duty is there are lots of stories to be found there. The pool of people summoned to jury duty represents all different ages and walks of life. If you like to people-watch, that's a great place to do it. How do people come dressed - casual or all dressed up? What do they bring with them to pass the time? What's their attitude about being there? And what are the "why's" behind all those things?
And that's just in the waiting room. Once you get to the courtroom, there are more stories. What's going on with the case? For this one, it was a young woman who was a passenger in a car where a quantity of drugs for sale was found. Did she have anything to do with it, or was it the other person, the driver, who was responsible for the drugs? It would have been interesting to hear the evidence on that.
The stories weren't just limited to the person on trial. The prosecuting attorney was blind; she even had her guide dog in the courtroom to guide her up to the judge's bench when one of the prospective jurors wanted to answer a question in private. My husband and I got married after his first year of law school, and I can tell you that getting through law school and taking the bar exam and then practicing law requires a mind-boggling amount of reading and writing. This attorney was making notes with a Braille tool, and I had to wonder how diificult it must have been for her to successfully get through school and pass the bar and then function in this job, and what it was that drove her to tackle all these hardships and challenges and make it to where she was.
On the defense side, one of the defense attorneys was a young woman from a small town (she mentioned it because a few of the prospective jurors were from the same small town, and she wanted to make sure none of them knew her) and from an ethnic background that tends to be poor and under-educated. What made her decide to become a lawyer, and what drove her to overcome the challenges she might have faced to get to that courtroom?
Then, as I was thinking about those two women, I realized that two of my female characters, Perarre from The Lost Book of Anggird and Sarya from Sarya's Song are women who have worked their way into academically challenging professions despite great odds against them. So that seems to be a theme that I'm drawn to.
And then there were the prospective jurors. We each had to give a short biographical statement about ourselves. Everyone's life is different, and everyone's life has something unique and interesting about it. Careers, educational background, family situations, interests - no two people had the same combination of things. One thing they asked was what bumper stickers we have on our cars. I was surprised that almost no one had bumper stickers, and the few who did had something completely innocuous (like me; my only bumper sticker is for my college alumni association). I was also surprised that more than one person had a son in prison. Those people did not make it onto the final jury. You could hear the emotion in their voices as they answered the question if you have a friend or family member in jail. That must be an incredibly heartbreaking thing to go through.
They also asked if we have previous experience on a jury, what kind of case, and what the verdict was. I was on the jury once in a robbery case, and we returned a guilty verdict. (The evidence was clear, but it was incredibly hard to pass a judgment on someone which meant that he would have to go to prison.) I'm guessing that that's why they didn't put me on the jury; defense attorneys probably don't like that.
So that was my day of jury duty. Going by how I feel today, two days later, I should probably try to get a medical exemption next time I'm summoned. But it was definitely worthwhile, both for knowing that I was fulfilling my civic responsibility, and for the nourishment for my writer's brain.
No Camp NaNo word count on Tuesday, obviously. Yesterday I only got 848.
Total word count: 2357/30,000
And I kind of liked this line from yesterday's output (remember this is raw and unedited, fresh from my brain):
Being found out as a mage was bad enough; being found out as a mage who cheated at cards would entitle that mage to additional gruesome variations on the standard hanging.
So, back to work now. Planning to write a good big chunk on that Camp NaNo novel today, and continue progress on the revision of Chosen of Azara. It needs more work that I had thought, so the release date might be getting pushed back to June. I'll see how it goes when I get to the parts that need major rewriting.
It's day 1 of Camp NaNoWriMo! I'm writing Book 3 of Daughter of the Wildings. A new feature of this Camp (as opposed to previous NaNoWriMo events) is that you can set your own word count goal. I'm going for 30,000, because it's doable in a month where I'm also in heavy-duty revisions (on Chosen of Azara), and because so far the drafts in this series haven't been very long. They'll probably get longer once I go back and fill them out; I tend to "write short," meaning that I summarize and skim over a lot of things in the first draft that need to be filled out in more detail in revisions.
Day 1 Count: 1509 words; 1509/30,000
Jury duty early tomorrow morning. I'm not counting on being able to get any writing done tomorrow, unless they let me go early. What I will do is print out the short-shorts I wrote in March and some of my revision-planning worksheets and get to work on those while I'm hanging out in the jury waiting room.
In other news, a group I'm involved in on Goodreads, Paranormal, Fantasy, Dystopia, and Romance Writers and Reviewers, has launched a new website: ultimatefantasybooks.com. If you enjoy fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, urban fantasy, and/or romance and you're looking for something new to read, come check out the site!
And I want to highlight the PFDRWR featured author of the week, Kristen DaRay. Congratulations, Kristen!
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